“I put some trauma into words, ground them up and worked them into my version of art. That’s what it’s all about for me.”
Grist (Floating Bridge Press, 2016)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
Some that I’ve enjoyed most recently are Andrew Koch’s Brick Woman (Hermeneutic Chaos) and Katie Schmid’s Forget me/Hit me/Let me drink large quantities of clear, evil liquor (Split Lip Press). I like finding poetry that has a clear narrative but moves in surprising directions, or uses imagery that feels a bit foreign to me. I haven’t spent a significant amount of time in the South or the Midwest, and so I like that these chapbooks allow me to inhabit those places (respectively).
What’s your chapbook about?
Grist deals a lot with how to make sense of the body in disruption. I’ve spent a lot of my life as a patient for different medical issues; I did two four-month stints in a full body cast for example. So many of the poems, including the title poem, deal with medical issues. There are a few about life as an equestrian, some dealing with the idea of motherhood, some relationship poems, but most of them relate at least tangentially to the body.
Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
Almost all of these poems were written while I was getting my MFA from Eastern Washington University, so I have professors Jonathan Johnson and Christopher Howell and my cohort to thank for a lot of the revision of this work; this chapbook is essentially a distilled version of my thesis. Since I graduated in 2014 I’ve been working a lot, so I don’t spend as much time writing as I would like to. I’m always making notes to myself (sometimes on myself) and then, when I have time, I sit down and try to make them into something. I tend to work at least the idea for a poem out in my head first, so the time I’m not writing still feels useful.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The first poem in the chapbook, Cast, has a story behind it that certainly influenced the rest of the work. It was my first or second workshop in the MFA program with Christopher Howell, who later became my thesis adviser. After the class had their discussion about my poem, Chris said, in his most mysterious tone, “There is only one word that I would change about this poem.” Everyone was pretty shocked, most of all me. He then prompted people to guess, (which was rough!) and finally revealed that he thought the word mom needed to be mother. So that was a serious confidence boost when I was nervous about starting the program, and unsure I was even a poet. I don’t have a vivid memory of writing the poem, but that experience in class really drove me to go further down that road thematically, which led to the chapbook.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
I was browsing in a used bookstore and found a beautiful copy of Gray’s Anatomy when I was beginning my second year in the MFA program. I got the idea for the sections from the structure of that book. I chose Osteology for poems dealing with medicine, Histology became history/childhood poems, Embryology for poems relating to motherhood, and The Articulations for poems about relationships. The title, which is also the title of a poem in the chapbook, is just trying to get at the idea that we can use the things we go through in our lives to our advantage. Everything can be useful; I put some trauma into words, ground them up and worked them into my version of art. That’s what it’s all about for me.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I love the cover of Grist. The editors knew I wanted something hinting at the medical theme without being too literal, and I think the cover does that and more. I love the antiquity and ambiguity of the image. I love all the little details and how I notice something new each time I look at it; I can’t wait to hold it in my hands.
What are you working on now? Are you continuing with the themes found in this chapbook?
I don’t think I’ll ever get away from writing about the body, because as someone with a chronic illness (Lyme disease), it really is something that occupies a lot of my brain. I’m really excited that I was invited to be a featured reader at a fantastic annual literary event in Spokane called Lilac City Fairytales, where local writers read work relating to that year’s theme (work that is also published in an anthology.) This year’s theme is “weird sisters” so I’ve been working on sister poems, and going a bit outside of my comfort zone to try to incorporate more weird into my work.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
I would say having a clear vision for my chapbook early on was useful. I knew exactly what I wanted the sections to be doing before I had enough work to fill them. Because chapbooks are so short, I think it’s important that they have a clear focus.
What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?
My chapbook creates a dark, nostalgic world driven by a speaker with a rich inner life. It’s often a world where the speaker feels trapped by the limitations of the body.
What’s the title for a book you haven’t written yet?
I’ve been thinking a lot about what to do with the stacks of journals I’ve been keeping since I was seven. I’m still not sure exactly what the project will turn into, but I scribbled “If lost please attempt to find me” on the back cover of one of the journals, which made me want to write something with them so that I could use that as a title.
Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?
Sharon Olds, Tony Hoagland, Louise Glück, Kim Addonizio, Larry Levis, and Stephen Dunn are the poets I remember having the most influence on this work.
Who is your intended audience? What kind of person do you imagine writing to?
I really imagine writing more to a feeling than to a person at first. If I’m trying to get to the sadness I felt when my little sister poured my grandmother’s perfume down the sink for example, I just try to inhabit that feeling and write whatever it has to say. But I do get obsessive about audience once I’m in the revision stages, which sometimes hurts more than helps. I’ll often read a poem five or six times, each with a different reader in mind (my mother, my thesis advisor, the woman I worked for when I lived in Australia, the dude I dated for two minutes, etc.) just to see what kind of poem I’m really writing.
What inspires you? What gets you to the page?
Living in Spokane is really inspiring on many levels. I’m inspired by all of the literary events going on and all the talented people I get to meet (for example I recently attended a workshop with Spokane’s poet laureate Laura Read, and heard a fantastic reading from EWU’s Visiting Writer Alexis M. Smith.) I’m also inspired a lot by the landscape of the Northwest. I love that I can take a short drive from my apartment to sit by the river in a national park, or go for a walk in the evening to a cliff to watch the sun setting over the city.
Kate Peterson earned her MFA from Eastern Washington University in Spokane, where she now works as an adjunct professor. Her poetry and prose has been published in Glassworks, The Sierra Nevada Review, Barnstorm, Sugar House Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Aethlon, Packingtown Review, among others. Her chapbook Grist won the 2016 Floating Bridge Chapbook Prize and will be published in October, 2016.
Trapped Bird in Hospital Corridor
A bird trapped in a house, they say, is good luck.
I think of telling you this when we find three
in the empty fireplace. But I say nothing.
In the hospital the children are all asleep, curtains drawn.
It’s as if the sun never came out today; too many clouds.
I wait it out. A child screams down the hall, no! no!
no. Just this morning those small words were in my mouth.
A bell rings down the hospital halls when a baby is born.
I wonder what sound I might make—
wings fluttering against a pane of glass.